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Governments are put in place to carry out policies. Effective governance means that they have the capacity to implement those policies. As Samuel Huntington observed, “[t]he most important political distinction among countries concerns not their form of government but their degree of government.”1 For our purposes, state capacity is the ability of a government-in-place to develop and implement policies that its leaders believe will improve national well-being. The capacity to govern includes having the required material resources, the personnel for whatever is necessary to deliver the policies to their beneficiaries, and a bureaucratic organization that enables high-level officials to implement policies.
How does state capacity feature in constitutional adjudication? And how can courts contribute to effective governance? Of course, they can interpret constitutions and statutes to authorize government officials to use whatever capacity they have to implement their chosen policies.
Studies on constitutional stability and endurance rarely gesture toward the role of legal doctrine. While the workings of courts are often considered in understanding how a constitutional order might be sustained, this is almost variably achieved by examining the relationship between courts and other institutions. This chapter takes a different approach and studies the way in which constitutional consolidation might also be shaped by the doctrinal orientations and forms of reasoning that courts adopt. It does so by considering the first period of Indian constitutionalism. The focus is on two specific areas: the place of the Directive Principles in India’s constitutional schema, and the confrontation between the judiciary and the legislature over land reform. In both instances, the judiciary helped to preserve the constitutional order, by sidestepping tensions that could have exploded and by carefully tailoring and minimizing disagreement, respectively.
Although the field of constitutional law has become increasingly comparative in recent years, its geographic focus has remained limited. South Asia, despite being the site of the world's largest democracy and a vibrant if turbulent constitutionalism, is one of the important neglected regions within the field. This book remedies this lack of attention by providing a detailed examination of constitutional law and practice in five South Asian countries: India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Identifying a common theme of volatile change, it develops the concept of 'unstable constitutionalism', studying the sources of instability alongside reactions and responses to it. By highlighting unique theoretical and practical questions in an underrepresented region, Unstable Constitutionalism constitutes an important step toward truly global constitutional scholarship.
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